Hospitals in Richlands and Wytheville link with Wellmont

Rick Wagner • May 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Hospitals in Richlands and Wytheville in Southwest Virginia have entered into clinical affiliations with Tennessee-based Wellmont Health System, hospital officials announced Wednesday morning at Bristol Regional Medical Center.

Officials of Wellmont, Clinch Valley Medical Center and Wythe County Community Hospital said the move should maintain and likely increase referrals from those facilities for tertiary care at Holston Valley and Bristol Regional medical centers, the two flagships of Sullivan County-based Wellmont.

The agreement is the latest in a series of acquisitions and affiliations between smaller hospitals in the region and one of the two dominant health care systems, Wellmont and Johnson City-based Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA).

The two smaller hospitals, owned by LifePoint Hospitals Inc., will be marketed as affiliated with Wellmont and use the Wellmont logo. LifePoint owns 48 hospitals in non-urban communities in 17 states, including 44 in communities where a LifePoint hospital is the sole community hospital provider.

Wellmont officials said the agreement means Wellmont will help recruit hospitalists and physicians, as well as share safety and quality care programs. Wellmont officials also emphasized referrals for oncology and cardiology.

Clinch Valley is a 175-bed acute-care hospital, while Wythe is a 100-bed facility.

Dr. Richard Salluzzo, chief executive officer and president of Wellmont, said that for Clinch Valley the agreement is more to “maintain our presence,” a sentiment echoed by David Darden, CEO of Clinch Valley.

“We’re very pleased to be part of this affiliation arrangement,” Darden said of the extension of an informal practice of using Wellmont facilities, particularly Holston Valley, for advanced needs.

In addition, Clinch Valley’s existing program for hospitalists — doctors who practice medicine in a hospital setting exclusively — is already staffed by Wellmont physicians.

“We’ve earned our preference without any ties,” said Salluzzo, who added that the negotiations with LifePoint took a few months.

As for the Wythe hospital, CEO Eric Deaton said the move is designed to help attract more patients from Wythe and Bland counties to Wellmont’s Tri-Cities facilities for tertiary medical care.

Deaton and Darden said the philosophy of the two hospitals, LifePoint and Wellmont match. The mileage to the Roanoke market and Tri-Cities is about equal from Wytheville, Salluzzo said.

Holston Valley in Kingsport is a Level 1 trauma center and has been recognized as a Thomson Top 100 hospital for cardiac care.

Bristol Regional, a Level 2 trauma center, is certified by The Joint Commission as a primary stroke center, serving as a hub of stroke care within the Wellmont system.

Salluzzo after the news conference emphasized that patients still would be free to request a transfer to other hospitals. However, he said the agreement makes Wellmont the “preferred choice” for tertiary care for the two LifePoint facilities.

Salluzzo said the Wellmont affiliation involved a “fiscal exchange” but he could not divulge details. In the future, he said construction and other capital improvements at the two Southwest Virginia facilities would be LifePoint projects unless Wellmont and LifePoint formed a limited liability corporation to do a joint project such as a cancer center, clinic or other project in Southwest Virginia.

Wellmont-owned hospitals in Southwest Virginia include Lonesome Pine Hospital in Big Stone Gap, Mountain View Regional Medical Center in Norton and Lee Regional Medical Center in Pennington Gap.

For more information, visit www.wellmont.org.

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